MANILA - The Philippines expressed optimism that Middle East countries will continue to implement labor reforms.
In a virtual presser organized by the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Global Media and Public Affairs on Friday, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola noted the developments in Saudi Arabia's labor reforms.
This includes, according to Arriola, Bahrain’s earlier abolition of exit visas and flexi-visa, Qatar’s abolition of exit visas and kafala, and Saudi Arabia’s labor reform initiative and abolition of kafala for skilled and semi-skilled workers, with Saudi’s “assurance that domestic household service workers will follow.”
President Rodrigo Duterte has called for the complete abolition of the kafala or sponsorship system that restricts movement of migrant workers, saying it is unjust.
Arriola pointed out that the president is the only head of state that mentioned the Global Compact for Migration in the United Nations General Assembly. The compact was adopted in 2018.
Undersecretary Robert E.A. Borje, Presidential Adviser on Foreign Affairs and Chief of Presidential Protocol, said nurturing partnership with other countries is key as he acknowledged that reforms would not happen overnight.
“… The change will not happen very, very fast… but be that as it may, what’s important really is that countries commit to continue cooperating and strengthen that cooperation even further," said Borje.
He added that the government remains committed in nurturing its partnership with countries in Saudi, and it is hopeful that an agreement would be made in a bid to protect overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
"We’ve made the investment with Bahrain, we’ve got the same thing with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And the fruits are slowly beginning to be born and we see that already. What is important is we continue nurturing the partnership, push, push when necessary," he explained.
"Sometimes, push even harder but at the end of the day, there will always be an agreement between parties and any movement towards the protection of our Filipino workers overseas is most welcome and we will do anything and everything needed to make sure that it only goes in that direction."
Duterte this week called for the "complete abolition" of the "kafala" sponsorship system, which he said places migrant workers "in the most vulnerable situation."
According to him, the kafala system has led to non-payment of wages, restriction of workers' movement, denial of health care, "perpetual exploitation," and "outright murder."
The Philippines has around 2.2 million migrant workers, whose remittances serve as lifeline to the Philippine economy, according to 2019 government data.
Saudi Arabia is the most preferred destination of overseas Filipino workers, representing 22.4 percent of OFWs. The United Arab Emirates follows, hosting 13.2 percent of OFWs.